The collection of contemporary art at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum reflects the international thrust of the age. The museum is home to important works by both Danish and international artists, a feature that distinguishes this part of the collection. The past four decades stand out as a period in which, to an unprecedented degree, conceptions of art have been the subject of debate and as one in which art assumed radically new forms and modes of expression. Discussions about the creation of art, its interaction with the wider society and not least its public, have often been fierce and impassioned. And while it is correct to say that there are clear differences between the four decades, the overall picture is one of art at a historical watershed.
The response from the side of art in the decade of revolt was initially identified with the American Pop Art. Images from popular culture (newspapers, magazines, life-style publications) were appropriated and recycled by artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. In their work, the aesthetics of advertising found its way into art as such, demolishing the boundary between high art and popular art once and for all.
This reframing of the notion of the artwork also typified Fluxus Art and the so-called “Nouveaux Réalistes” who incorporated the artefacts of the real world into their art. The fugitive, mutable and unpredictable hallmarked an art whose aims included that of removing art and artists from the pedestal on which they had been placed.
By the same token, similar experiments in art were prosecuted at the so-called Eks-skole in Copenhagen. Young Danish artists such as Bjørn Nørgaard and Per Kirkeby followed Paul Gernes by drawing on and further developing ideas implicit in, inter alia, Pop Art and Minimalism.
ARoS Aarhus Kunst Museum owns an impressive and representative collection of works by the Danish artist Per Kirkeby. The works range from the early experiments with Pop Art’s new and groundbreaking aesthetics to the large sensuous oils of the 1980s. The museum is also home to a comprehensive collection of Kirkeby’s graphics to which, recently, the artist’s private archives containing drawings and sketches have been added.
In the 1980s, artists reintroduced the medium that had been anathematised in the 1960s: painting. With renewed impetus and a commitment shot through with a strong ironical streak, the “Neue Wilde” painting set the trend in both the Danish and the international art scene. Semi-abstract and expressive oil paintings – often in large formats – exhibited a devil-may-care attitude in the way they literally burst out of studios, and by the use of untraditional materials such as fat, urine and milk they added yet a new layer to the range and repertoire of art.
With the launch of the Worldwide Web and the globalisation that it triggered, art changed again. The most tangible results lay within the new mediums of photography, video and installation art. The private and the political formed the chief focus for the new generation of Danish artists and their confreres abroad who to an unprecedented degree related to what was going on in the international art scene.